Grassley Threatens EPA Chief's Job in Dispute on Biofuel Mandate

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(Bloomberg) -- Chuck Grassley, Iowa’s senior senator, said he will call for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s resignation if the agency undermines U.S. biofuel mandates.

Grassley’s protest comes amid mounting farm-state frustration with the EPA’s management of the Renewable Fuel Standard that compels refiners to use biofuel such as corn-based ethanol. Iowa is a top producer of both corn and ethanol.

The EPA has granted more exemptions to small refineries this year than in previous ones, following a federal court decision last year that made it easier to win those waivers.

Grassley, a Republican and a member of the Agriculture Committee, wants the agency to ease off those exemptions and redistribute any waived renewable fuel quotas to non-exempted refineries. “They better, or I’m going to be calling for Pruitt to resign,” Grassley told reporters in a conference call Tuesday morning. “I’m done playing around.”

Grassley later reiterated the threat on Twitter: “I’ve supported Pruitt but if he pushes changes to RFS that permanently cut ethanol by billions of gallons he will have broken Trump promise & should step down & let someone else do the job of implementing Trump agenda.”

On the campaign trail in 2016, Donald Trump said the EPA should set biofuel blending targets at statutory levels set by Congress. But Grassley said the waivers are chipping away at a requirement that refineries use 15 billion gallons of conventional renewable fuel this year. And the waivers threaten to undercut any market gains from Trump’s pledge to allow year-round sales of E15 gasoline that contains 15 percent ethanol, Grassley added.

"Trump was elected with an agenda; Pruitt was not elected," Grassley said.

A Turbulent Tenure

His comments add to the political troubles confronting Pruitt, who has drawn fire for frequent taxpayer-funded travel, an unorthodox Capitol Hill condo rental from a lobbyist, questionable spending decisions at the EPA, raises for top aides over White House objections and allegations that some employees were sidelined after challenging his decisions. Four Republicans and at least 170 Democrats in the House and Senate already have sought Pruitt’s ouster.

Grassley’s comments drew a swift rebuke from refining advocates. “It is untenable that a sitting senator would give an administration official a Sophie’s choice: to violate the Clean Air Act or resign,” LeAnn Johnson Koch, an attorney representing small refineries, said by email.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA can exempt small refineries using no more than 75,000 barrels of crude oil per day from renewable fuel quotas if they face “disproportionate economic hardship” -- regardless of the size or economic health of their parent companies.

But ethanol advocates say Grassley’s anger is well placed. “Senator Grassley has every right to be upset,” Iowa Renewable Fuels Association President Monte Shaw said in a phone interview. “He’s trying to make clear to the White House that it’s close to crossing a line that it shouldn’t cross.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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